Before we embark on the joys of the tiled city, my travel companion and I decided to do a quick detour to Cape St Vincent. It wasn’t exactly a quick detour as it took just over an hour to reach this rocky terrain. The edge of the European continent below your feet, surrounded by tourists and wind blowing in your hair as you look towards a lighthouse.
Tip – Yes it’s windy! Please take a jumper or scarf because you will need it even if the weather is 28 degrees/80F.
The novelty of looking out beyond the Atlantic Ocean and taking beautiful pictures of a lighthouse among cliffs didn’t last long for me. I was curious about the large green spot around south west map of Portugal on google maps, however it was more for my friends benefit than my own. What made it worth it, was the goodies I was able to pick up from the from the gift store whilst my friend went cliff exploring with the camera. I enjoyed my self gathering gifts, all edible of course, for myself and others, taking full advantage of my check in luggage allowance by purchasing a jars of rosemary & eucalyptus honey, Bees pollen, and traditional biscuits (that I ate before the plane took off).
The drive to Lisbon took over 3 hours which felt like forever, I spent most of the journey falling asleep, not much help for my friend who was in urgent need of break after 2 hours of driving. Luckily we stopped at motorway service station where I tasted my first Bolinhos de Bacalhau!
Finally we entered Lisbon, the oldest city in Western Europe driving up winding roads in Santos, the area we would be residing. Once we met the lovely owners of our Airbnb, unloaded our bags from the car it was time for dinner.
We went to Santa Pausa, a newly opened restaurant and bar opened until late with a relaxed ambience as you are welcomed by the front of house who also happens to be the D.J.
I decided to go for a cocktail, opting for the pineapple mojito, which I must warn you had super generous shot of liquor overpowering the fruitiness of the pineapple. For starters we tried the sardines baked on balsamic bread. A delicious dish with salty sardines encompassed with acidic balsamic glaze, revealing its perfect combination as you bit into the soft bread with a crusty exterior. Next was my favourite dish, the chefs take on the Portuguese custard tart, Pastéis de Nata combining it with their love for cod. what we received was a flaky pastry holding onto it’s creamy cod filling. I opted for the Cod as my main dish but the flavours didn’t agree with me, I wish I ordered the cod tarts and a side of potatoes (they had good roast baby potatoes) which would have kept me within a realm of blissful satisfaction until breakfast.
We discovered our breakfast spot, La Boulangerie on our return from dinner and we decided after biting into our French pastries that we would be returning the next morning. My friend being Swiss who is the ultimate food snob in my circle said ‘the pastry is just right, it’s just how you would find in France’.
Seated across from the square in front of the National museum of Ancient Art, I went for the fresh orange & raspberry juice, scrambled eggs served with freshly baked bread rolls and a croissant for later (I snack a lot). My friend devoured a pain au chocolat with an expresso after enjoying a glass of fresh orange juice. The damage was €20, but given the quality of food we didn’t care.
We spent our time to also search nearby cycle rentals, and in our favour one was situated round the corner, Rcicla Rentals. We hired 2 bikes at the cost of €8 each, with a €60 returnable deposit. The service was great, with attentive staff checking seat height and comfortability before you start your journey. We started on the cycle lanes at Av. Brasilia, cycling past MAAT, the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology leading to Belém.
Belém is the dock where Portuguese explorers set off on the voyages of discovery, with exquisite monuments and towers such as Padrão dos Descobrimentos and Torre de Belém , with museums scattered around the sea front and nearby area. We had no desire to visit museums, our goal was to cycle, immerse ourselves in the city and make discoveries of our own.
After stopping at a cafe for a quick drink, we cycled until the monuments were no more but small beaches and rocky areas. We turned back on our route reaching the restaurants and bars in front of Doca de Recreio de Santo Amaro for a Sangria for me and beer for the friend at Bar Havana , whilst searching for restaurant serving traditional Portuguese food.
Our feast (aka lunch) took place at Taberna Sal Grosso. Dishes served tapas style for sharing, we selected the oxtail cooked in red wine served with a almond liquor soaked pear, calms rice, Bolinhos de Bacalhau served with bread sauce, Tuna salad, sweet potatoes chips (turned out to be crisps). All I will say is that it shows that the chef really enjoys food and great flavor. There were no complaints, we simply enjoyed it, loved it and savored every bite, even the complimentary aperitifs placed on your table to enjoy. The total bill came to €42, which also included water, wine and coffee.
After our lunch we left our parked our bikes and walked up hill, without the guidance of maps we allowed our feet to direct us. We found a quirky ceramic store, Armazém Das Caldas. Drawn in by their ceramic hanging fish, I left with two plates and a bowl before returning to our exploration around the city capturing visual moments of locals going on about their daily lives. Observing the streets with remains of a past festivals and alley ways with the views of the sea inviting you down it’s pathway we stumbled upon the Church of Santa Engrácia now a National Pantheon.
After our excision around the city it was time to cycle back to Santos, although we rented the bikes until the next morning we preferred to take them back that evening. We did a quick stop at Cais das Colunas, soaking up the sun with the rest of tourists.
For our final evening we spent it wondering around Bairro Alto, filled with shops we witnessed the transformation as the streets filled with a multicultural mix of people enjoying the bars, restaurants. Walking past the outdoor restaurants grilling sardines on open charcoal, we sat outside in a bar watching a live band perform in the adjacent bar. We made sure to collect a few souvenirs from the late night stores after dinner.
Packed and ready to go, we had breakfast at La Boulangerie before heading to the airport. I didn’t buy any of my edible Lisboa gifts in the city, I took a gamble expecting the airport to have a store or two and lucky there was. I bought Hazelnut chocolates and almond confectionary from Confeitaria Nacional, they also supply food too.
Also once I got through security the main duty free shop sold fresh Portuguese custard tarts and Queijadas De Feijao, bean tarts. I seriously advise you to go for the bean tarts which are sticky and sweet in a light pastry and for someone who is not fond of custard this was a tastier substitute.
There is still so much to discover of Portugal that after returning to London, I knew that I will have to make future plans to return. I thoroughly understood why Portugal is called a hidden gem, or an underrated destination.
Thank you Portugal for the hospitality, the food, the people and discovered moments.